Deisy Sanchez Rey, who at 16 was recruited by her brother to join the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) paramilitary and drug trafficking group, spoke on justice. She shared her story of how she was eventually arrested and, after two years in prison, wanted to change her life. She began attending Mass and studying psychology, and now offers counseling to victims of drugs and violence.
A third testimony, given by Luz Dary Landazury, the victim of an explosion set off by guerrilla forces, regarded mercy. In addition to nearly losing her left leg and suffering wounds all over her body, Landazury's 7-month-old daughter also suffered significant injuries to her face.
Despite her anger, Landazury said she eventually understood that hate would only lead to more violence, and so began visiting other victims in order to help them learn to let go of their own anger and move forward with their lives.
The final testimony, focused on peace, was given by Pastora Mira Garcia, whose father was killed by guerrillas when she was just 6-years-old. She also lost her first husband, her daughter, and her son to guerrilla violence.
However, with what she describes as grace and the help of Our Lady, she was able not only to work with other families who had experienced similar losses, but eventually, in different moments, met and cared for both her father's killer, who was sick and abandoned, and her son's murderer, who was wounded.
In his address following the testimonies, Pope Francis said he had been looking forward to the encounter “since my arrival in your country.”
“You carry in your hearts and your flesh the signs of the recent, living memory of your people which is marked by tragic events, but also filled with heroic acts, great humanity, and the noble spiritual values of faith and hope,” he said.
Colombia has sadly become “a land watered by the blood of thousands of innocent victims and by the heart-breaking sorrow of their families and friends,” he said, adding that these wounds “hurt us all, because every act of violence committed against a human being is a wound in humanity’s flesh.”
The Pope said he didn't come to speak, but rather “to be close to you and to see you with my own eyes, to listen to you and to open my heart to your witness of life and faith. And if you will allow me, I wish also to embrace you and weep with you.”
“I would like us to pray together and to forgive one another – I also need to ask forgiveness – so that, together, we can all look and walk forward in faith and hope.”
He pointed to the Crucifix of Bojayá, where on May 2, 2002, 119 civilians, including 45 children, were killed by guerrilla forces in an effort to take the Atrato River region from the AUC. Victims had taken refuge in the town's church, but were all killed when the militants began launching gas cylinder bombs inside.
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Pope Francis noted how the crucifix pulled from the carnage shows a Christ “mutilated and wounded,” with no arms and no body. “But his face remains, with which he looks upon us and loves us.”
To see Christ this way challenges us, he said, and reminds us of the “immense suffering, the many deaths and broken lives, and all the blood spilt in Colombia these past decades.”
“Christ broken and without limbs is for us even more Christ, because he shows us once more that he came to suffer for his people and with his people,” Francis said. “He came to show us that hatred does not have the last word, that love is stronger than death and violence.”
Turning to the testimonies given, the Pope said he was moved when listening to them, because they are stories that speak of pain and suffering, “but also, and above all, they are stories of love and forgiveness that speak to us of life and hope; stories of not letting hatred, vengeance or pain take control of our hearts.”
“Thank you, Lord, for the witness of those who inflicted suffering and who ask for forgiveness; for the witness of those who suffered unjustly and who forgive,” he said, adding that “this is only possible with your help and presence.”
Francis recalled how in her testimony, Mira Garcia had said that she wanted to place her suffering and that of all victims of the conflict at the feet of Christ Crucified, “so that united to his suffering, it may be transformed into blessing and forgiveness so as to break the cycle of violence that has reigned over Colombia.”